Ski Mammoth Mountain – 5 must knows before you go

quick tips and what to know when taking a family ski trip to Mammoth Mountain, CA. #ozofsalt #familytravel #skiing #mammothmountain #travelCA #wintergetaway


Are you planning on skiing this season? If you’re going to ski Mammoth Mountain, there are some insider tips I’d love to give you to maximize your enjoyment during your trip! 

My family has been visiting Mammoth Mountain for 10 years since our kids were little. We own a home there, so we visit many times each year during ski season as well as summertime when it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. Over the years, we’ve learned the best ways to optimize our time in the area.

Ski Mammoth Mountain lift at roller coaster

1. Avoid Long Lines

Ski Mammoth Mountain canyon lodge

Just outside of Canyon Lodge during lunchtime

Equipment rentals and Mammoth Mountain lift tickets 

If you’re not an Ikon Ski Pass holder (season pass) and want to rent skis, save time by getting your equipment/tickets at the rental shop in Mammoth Village (at the base of the gondola) instead of at one of the lodges on the slopes.

Ideally, you want to reserve your rentals and tickets ahead of time via the Mammoth Mountain site, but if you’re a last minute person, the Village rental location is your best bet. If you’re at least an intermediate skier and need to rent equipment, I recommend renting demo skis over regular skis. It makes a huge difference! Lines are 5x shorter at the 2nd-floor demo equipment section verses the first floor regular rental section AND you can pick up your Mammoth Mountain lift tickets at the demo section. 

Lunch – avoid cafeterias 12-1:30pm

Ski Mammoth Mountain canyon lodge cafeteria

Consider eating lunch early at 11 or late after 1:30. During the lunch hour, everyone is in the lodge cafeterias. You will be standing in long lines and be fighting to get a seat. 11-1:30 is a great time to avoid lift lines and take advantage of the empty runs while everyone is inside! 

My family eats a big breakfast and waits until 1:30-2 to have lunch. We hate crowds and will do whatever we can to avoid them!

2. Avoid the crowds on Mammoth Mountain by skiing at the top 

Ski Mammoth Mountain mcCoy station

If you’re at least an intermediate skier, you can avoid the crowds by hanging out at the top of the mountain. Take lift 5 and then turn right when you get off the lift. Traverse about 1/4 mile and you’ll see McCoy station just below! 

Most people take multiple lifts to get to McCoy station in a roundabout way which takes 3x as long as going from Chair 5. From McCoy, you can go up to the top of the mountain on the gondola over to runs like the Cornice, or take the outdoor lift to many other blue and black runs.

Ski Mammoth Mountain McCoy station

Outdoor bar area at McCoy Station

My husband and I love to have drinks at McCoy as we watch the spectacular scene around us. 

3. Ikon Ski Pass – Get Regular (not the Base) season pass

Since Mammoth was purchased by Alterra a few years back, things have improved at the mountain for its customers. Mammoth Mountain now offers the Ikon ski pass which means season pass holders have access to 11-13 destinations in addition to Mammoth Mountain ski resort.

mammoth mountain map

Mammoth Mountain map

The Ikon pass price for the base level is about $799 if purchased pre-season. However, there are blackout dates for the base level on virtually every winter holiday when you would want to visit the mountain. For $200 more per pass, the regular Ikon pass has no blackout dates. Smart idea by the resort owners, as most season pass holders purchase the base pass which makes the mountain less crowded than it has historically been during Holiday weekends.

Since the mountain during Holiday weekends isn’t as crowded anymore, I recommend buying the regular Ikon pass instead of the restricted Ikon Base pass. 

4. Avoid service fees by online rental sites 

Air B&B charges service fees of about 10% to customers who book through their site. A few years ago, VRBO adopted the same business model and now charges booking fees to renters as well. In addition, VRBO continues to charge membership fees to the home owners to advertise on their sites. This was frustrating to me as a home owner in Mammoth who has used VRBO for many years to rent out our home, as it increases the total rental price for the customer by 10%. 

When I find rentals using VRBO, I contact the owner via email to see if we can book outside of the rental site to avoid the service charge. They say the booking fee is to provide the renter 100% security in booking, but I am happy without that service. I also pay via check or wire transfer to avoid cc merchant fees. 

As a Mammoth California homeowner who rents out our property throughout the year, many customers book with me directly and pay by check or bank transfer so it seems many know this trick to avoid the 10% service charge. However, it isn’t an obvious step to take, so I hope this tip helps you save some money!

5. Best place to eat at Mammoth Lakes 

Mammoth is not known for their good restaurants, that’s for sure. Being a seasonal location, I would think it would be difficult to build a high quality restaurant with enough volume to support it throughout the year. If you look on Yelp, you’ll find many 3 star ratings in popular locations like the Mammoth Village who attract customers mostly due to their convenient location. 

Mammoth Mountain restaurant 53 Kitchen

Enjoying a Manhattan at 53 Kitchen and Cocktails

Mammoth Mountain restaurant 53 Kitchen

Chicken sandwich was delicious!

My family likes to frequent a few restaurants each time we visit Mammoth Lakes. My favorite this year is 53 Kitchen & Cocktails. We like to sit at the large bar section and happy hour 3-4 is our favorite time to go. They have warm pretzel bread, delicious sandwiches and the best Manhattan in town. 

So there you have it. The 5 must knows before you ski Mammoth Mountain this year. I hope you found these insider tips useful! 

Visit my blog post Winter in Mammoth Lakes: My Recommendations for more great info about Mammoth Lakes, California!

“Flavor your life with an Ounce of Salt.” A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.